GO TEAM USA!
- By Alex Brown
- Photos Courtesy of Olympics
The world will soon gather 80 miles east of Seoul, Korea, in PyeongChang, a city we will all soon come to know. And from the opening ceremonies and the Parade of Nations, until the very last breath of torch flame departs for the next host city, the Games of the XXIII Olympiad promise to have all the drama and pageantry of Olympics past.
While the games are meant to be a pause in the politics that shape our world, they—along with most global sporting ventures—cannot escape the geopolitical realities of our day. First among these issues is, of course, North Korea. With the border situated a mere 50 miles from the Games, South Korea seemed to squash any shadow of aggression by not only inviting the North Korean government to send athletes but by agreeing to march under a unified Korean flag and fielding a combined women’s hockey team. The other sporting issue of our time is a bit more shocking, as the anti-doping authorities banned Russia from competing under its own flag. While her athletes will still be able to compete, they will not do so as official representatives of Russia, and the anthem of the Russian Federation will not be heard in PyeongChang—an extraordinary punishment for its systemic, institutionalized doping program. But politics are just that—politics. The Olympics are really about the athletes and the lifelong sacrifices these men and women make for their sport.
In a true Olympic-year shocker, Ashley Wagner, whom everyone expected to lead the US Olympic figure skating contingency, did not make the team following her fourth-place finish at US Nationals earlier this year. Instead, Bradie Tennell will travel to Korea to skate for the red, white and blue. After a stunning near-perfect performance in San Jose, Bradie rocked the skating world as she bumped Wagner from the team. Along with her teammates, Karen Chen and Mirai Nagasu, Tennell will have her eyes on gold as she takes to the ice. And let’s not forget the men—Adam Rippon, Vincent Zhou and of course, Nathan Chen, perhaps the most favored among the US skaters to stand atop the highest podium.
But the drama doesn’t end at the ice’s edge. Look for personalities just as fierce and strong heading down the slopes and the halfpipe as the US skiing and snowboarding team again looks to smash the competition. Returning to his fourth Olympics, two-time gold medalist Shaun White looks to add to his medal count. And who can overlook Lindsay Vonn, perhaps the greatest US skier of all time with 78 competition victories. In what will likely be her last Olympic Games, Vonn also sets out to add more metal to the gold and bronze she took home from Vancouver. Adding to the roster is wunderkind Chloe Kim, the first woman snowboarder to land back-to-back 1080s in competition when she was just 15 years old. Now 17, the games look like they are hers to lose. And finally, Gus Kenworthy, who opened up the sport for so many when he came out as gay, returns in the true spirit of the games to show the world that everyone can compete.
Finally, let’s hear it for the ladies. First up, we have the medal-hungry, top-contending US Women’s Ice Hockey team who heads to PyeongChang to break Canada’s four consecutive titles. And while bobsled is not necessarily the first sport that Americans tune in to watch at the Games, in this year of breakout women athletes, Elana Meyers and Lauren Gibbs are two to watch closely. Meyers is no stranger to the podium, and is joined this year by relative newcomer, but nonetheless fierce, 425-pound-deadlifting Gibbs.
Every two years the world comes together for friendly and spirited competition in front of a global audience. But friendly doesn’t mean docile. Emotions and passions will run high as athletes cross the planet to meet in PyeongChang, fighting for the right to be called number 1. And it is with best wishes for every athlete that television viewers and sports fans around our nation will huddle together in their living rooms in less than two weeks’ time, chanting, “U-S-A!”
Olympic coverage begins on February 8th on NBC.